Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Defining an American

Class today was perhaps the most fascinating lecture yet. We started off the day with a short PowerPoint by Dr. Hanson where we further discussed immigration and the concept of diversity in America. Dr. Hanson led us through peak periods of immigration in American history and how these were met by nativist movements. He then posed the question, should America be seen as a melting pot or a mosaic? I had used the term melting pot before, but when he pointed it out I saw how it could erase the different identities of many Americans. "Melting Pot" makes it sound as if we all come together into one monolithic culture, which is not at all true.

Next , we launched straight into a film, which we hadn't done before in class. We were watching Divided We Fall, a documentary by Valerie Kaur, who would be our guest speaker later in the the day. She would be talking us about the importance of storytelling in social justice work. Divided We Fall was a project that she started in 2001 right after the September 11 attacks, in which she set out the document the stories of Sikhs who became the victims of hate crimes. I had seen a fictional movie called My Name is Khan that tackled the same issue, so it was not the first time I had heard this narrative. However, I recognize that it is not typically what we hear about when we hear about 9/11, so I was happy to get to know more about how these attacks affected and continue to affect people from the Middle East.

Divided We Fall started out by explaining Valerie's grandfather's journey from India to a small farming community in California. Her family was well liked in the community, even though people never completely understood their Sikh religious beliefs or cultural practices. Valerie described feeling confused about how to reconcile herself as a Sikh and an All American girl, a struggle that I think is common with most children or grandchildren of immigrants. However, she says that she never really thought about the issue much before 9/11.

The film goes on to document how, minutes after the World Trade Center was attacked, those who were perceived as Muslim because of the way they looked began to be targeted. In the next few months during which the documentary was filmed, hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs became widespread. There were several deaths and even more beatings and vandalism against places of worship. In the eyes of many Americans, and even the government at large, Muslims and those who looked like they could be Muslims became the enemy. Sikhs, who were constantly being confused for Muslims because they come from the same part of the world, became subject to harassment and racial profiling in almost every aspect of their lives.

While I recognize that what happened to the victims of the 9/11 attacks was horrific, I found it just as horrific that Americans took it out on an entire group of people, many of whom were innocent. At the end of Divided We Fall, Valerie stresses how individual stories can bring people together and effect change. After lunch, in our discussion groups, we talked about her journey and what she learned about our country and herself on the road trip that she took to make the film. We concluded that the film shows how harmful it is to view our fellow human beings as 'other' simply because of where they come from and what beliefs and practices they are. Americans do not consist of only the white Christian archetype, rather, the diversity of ethnic backgrounds here is what makes it so special.

At 2:00 PM, Valerie Kaur came to us through a Skype call to talk more about Divided We Fall and her experiences since then. There were some technical difficulties, but she was eventually able to start answering our questions about the film and about her life. She told us about how the film felt like the only way to help her people at the time, and how making it had almost made her lose faith in humanity because of all the hatred she heard about and experienced. Valerie told us how important it was to have a network of support as an activist, so that the work doesn't drain you. Another one of the most memorable things she talked about was how being idealistic and having fresh new ideas made young activists the most valuable, and how we should not wait to start pursuing social justice work.

Valerie Kaur really inspired me because of her realistic but at the same time hopeful attitude towards social justice. She earned a law degree in order to pursue social justice in the most effective way, which is also what I want to do, so I felt that I could really relate to her. Through Divided We Fall, she was able to find her voice and speak out for her community, but she also has a lot of experience learning from and working  with disenfranchised groups besides Sikhs as well. I got a very genuine vibe from her, and I could tell that she was a very dedicated activist. Advice from someone like that is very valuable, and I'm glad that our program was able to schedule something out to where we could still interact with Valerie even if we weren't in the same room as her.

When I got back from class, I set down my stuff and left for dinner almost right away. Determined to eat only through my meal plan for this entire week, I went with my friends to 1920 Commons. We planned to go to the gym afterwards, which we were able to do once we came back to the dorms to change. This time, I didn't use the rock wall, but went on the machines and did other exercises that my friends taught me. I pointed out to my friend Jack how I would probably never have come to the gym if it weren't for the motivation of our other friends. Even in this small way, meeting all of these new people was causing me to try new things!

We returned to the Quadrangle after wandering around the home area for a bit. That evening there was a karaoke competition going on. While we were at first bored and then just content to watch, we eventually got the courage to perform a song. It was a good time, with the whole room singing along as students and RCs alike performed. Some got very into it, creating dance moves and being as dramatic as possible. You didn't have to be a good singer to participate, which is was good for me, as the whole evening was about nothing more than goofing off  with friends.

 After karaoke, it was time to wind down and eventually shower and climb into bed. I was tired, as I usually am, but this Monday also left me feeling fulfilled by what had been my favorite class day so far.

1 comment:

  1. Allonna, really enjoyed your blog. I remember a lecture I had in college on how we are NOT the Melting Pot, but rather like a salad, that our differences are noticeable, and at times, separated. Often times the idea of a 'melting pot' is diminutive towards minority groups because often times it is their culture that is erased as they join America; a country that is supposed to celebrate diverse cultures.

    Keep listening and reading, there is more to learn, but glad you're also enjoying your time with friends. What is your go-to Karaoke song? Mine is always Foo Fighters.